A family business icon is jailed – and follows other dynasty heads into the pen

Photo by Rambleon/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Rambleon/iStock / Getty Images

Reputations don’t fall much more than that of Marcelo Odebrecht. The scion of one of Latin America’s best known – and most revered – family business dynasties has been jailed for 19 years for his involvement in a corruption scandal in Brazil. But Marcelo is by no means the first head of a family business dynasty to be locked up.

Marcelo was chief executive and a third generation member of the family-owned Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht. One of the country’s biggest businesses, Odebrecht has annual revenues of around $40 billion, employing more than 160,000 people.

It is big, extremely well connected and has been held up many times as a shining example of a Latin American business success story. Odebrecht was once one of the 50 most admired companies in the world, and in 2010 won a prestigious global family business prize – the IMD/Lombard Odier Global Family Business Award. Although the charges against Marcelo are specifically aimed at himself, rather than the company his family own, Odebrecht’s reputation is nevertheless likely to come under scrutiny.   

Marcelo’s sensational fall from grace follows a long line of other family business leaders incarcerated for their bad deeds – here’s three recent cases:

Thomas Kwok

The Hong Kong property tycoon was convicted in 2014 for “conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office” and sentenced to five years in jail. Thomas is the second son of Kwok Tak-Seng, the founder of Sun Hung Kai Properties, the biggest property developer in Hong Kong in revenue terms. Despite the damage to the reputation of the property group and the family, Sun Hung Kai Properties continues to flourish as one of the biggest property groups in the world – and is now being run by his elder brother Raymond.

Martin Grass

Martin Grass, the former chief executive of the Rite Aid Corporation, a US drugstore chain, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice in 2004 and was sentenced to eight years in jail. His father founded Rite Aid in 1962 and built it up to be one of the biggest drugstore companies in America. However, after Grass was found guilty, family control of the business diminished and the firm was sold to a competitor in 2015.

Kim Seung-Youn

The chairman of one of South Korea’s biggest chaebols, the Hanwha Group, Kim Seung-Youn was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzlement in 2012, but released in 2014 on the grounds of his deteriorating health. His father founded Hanwha Group in 1952. South Korea’s family-controlled chaebols have remained for the most part unscathed by various incidences like Kim’s imprisonment and allegations of corruption that have plagued them for many years. They continue to exert huge influence on the economy of South Korea.


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